Reverse Engineering a Relevant Life: Kill Your Inner Procrastinator

JanOneI don’t journal much.

If you open my journal, you’ll see a parade of entries for January 1st over the years. New Year’s Day has a way of compelling me to aspire to a more relevant future. But simply writing down objectives at the beginning of the year doesn’t work.

I discovered a planning technique in my last term of college that profoundly improved my ability to steadily accomplish goals.

I’d just finished a nightmarish string of all-nighters from the previous quarter because I’d misjudged what I could procrastinate. I sat down in my dorm room after the first day of class and arranged a short stack of syllabi on the desk in front of me.

What I Needed Was A Map

I pulled the calendar off the bulletin board and transferred the due dates for every major assignment from each class into the appropriate boxes.

Then I tried something new. I began with the last final exam and started working backwards. I estimated how much time I’d need to study the subject to get a good grade. Two days. I counted back two days on the calendar from the date of the exam, and wrote, “Start studying for exam Z.” Then I found the next to the last exam, and decided I needed two days to study for that one too. I counted back two more days on the calendar and wrote, “Start studying for exam Y.”

Next, I found a paper was due on the same day as those exams. I figured I needed a week to write it, so I continued counting backwards seven days from where I left off and wrote, “Start paper X.”

I kept working through the due dates this way, assigning myself start dates increasingly early in the schedule. By the time I was finished, I was supposed to start a paper in the first week that would be completed weeks before it was due at midterm. That seemed silly, but I decided to try following the plan.

It Worked!

This small exercise in planning allowed me to steadily plug away at my work in bite-sized, manageable chunks in a methodical execution of the map that I’d made. I walked at graduation a rested man, but I felt like kicking myself. I could have saved myself a lot of torture if I’d figured out that trick earlier.

Thankfully, the usefulness of the lesson didn’t end when college was over. It turns out you can reverse engineer any goal you want to accomplish and create your own map to follow.

What Have You Got To Lose?

Try working through these six steps on New Year’s Day instead of making a resolution that you know you’ll break.

1. Define a goal

2. Create a detailed list of what would have to change or be accomplished for the goal to be realized

3. Organize the list in chronological order based on a progression of prerequisites

4. Set an optimistic date for the goal to be achieved and write it on a calendar

5. Map the list starting from the last task on the list, and backward from the goal date on the calendar, estimating the span of time to accomplish each subtask

6. Diligently execute the scheduled tasks on the map and adjust assignments to reflect reality

Maybe you have a different method of ensuring that your life follows a relevant course. Please share it with us in the comments section.

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Two Effective Mentoring Techniques

MentorConsider the verb: to mentor.

The word mentor is being used more often as we realize that leadership is best passed on through apprenticeship. But does everybody agree on what mentoring is?

At a national conference, I learned that perhaps we don’t all agree after a conversation with a twenty-something-aged friend. He had just returned from a large group discussion with leaders of national organizations over dinner. It hadn’t gone well from his perspective.

Unfulfilled Expectations

“So how did your emerging leadership session go?” I asked.

Bryan rolled his eyes, “Can you believe it? While the rest of you were eating roast beef they served us pizza – like we’re some high school youth group or something.”

“Ha! That’s hilarious. But what did they want to talk to you about?”

“It’s always the same thing. They ask what we want from them to help equip us for future leadership.”

“What did you all say to them?”

“We say the same thing every time: ‘We want mentoring.’ But they never follow through and mentor us.”

He walked away discouraged.

The Disconnect

I’ll bet that the leaders who hosted the session were equally discouraged. Here’s what I imagine they were saying to each other as they debriefed the meeting: “We ask them what they want from us, and they say the same thing every time. Mentoring. But that’s all we ever do is mentor them, and they’re never satisfied.”

The core of the problem is that each generation has a different perception of what mentoring means.

Clarified Definitions

The mentoring that the over 40 crowd are offering sounds like, “Those of us who are seasoned veterans go out to Starbucks with the brightest young people we can find, and tell them stories about what we used to do when we were younger. We’ll probably also have some accountability discussions.”

The mentor that the under 30 crowd are hoping for could be described as, “Someone who’s actively innovating who invites me to come alongside and join them in their work – with the expectation that they’re going to help launch me far beyond what they can accomplish.”

The mentoring that’s needed will be practical and relevant. Stories about what worked ten years ago aren’t going to cut it.

How To Mentor Well

If we want to mentor emerging leaders we must continue to engage in trends, keep our own stories fresh, and not do anything without taking someone younger with us. The problem is that there’s a limit to the number of new leaders that we can realistically impact this way because of  limitations in time and energy.

A more reproducible solution is to introduce emerging leaders to each other and catalyze them into cohorts that can peer mentor themselves in community. Today’s social media has revitalized interest in real life, face-to-face community. We should not underestimate the power of small groups of like-minded innovators who sharpen their skills together and become loyal companions.

The saying used to be, “Those who can’t, teach.” We should revise that to, “Those who can’t, network.” In my own experience, I’ve found that being a part of such a peer-mentoring community results in my gaining much more than I have to offer them.

Do you have a different insight into the modern understanding of mentoring that I’ve missed? How would you prefer to get wisdom?